Russia has previously been accused by the UK, US and Canada of seeking to steal research related to Covid-19.Would you trust a vaccine if Vladimir Putin told you it was safe?
Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as “absolutely groundless”.
On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans.
But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism.
Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution.
“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that… are absolutely groundless,” Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
He added that the vaccine would be available soon.
“The first packages of the medical vaccine… will be received within the next two weeks, primarily for doctors,” Mr Murashko said.
What has the reaction been?
The progress Russia says it has made on a coronavirus vaccine has been met with scepticism by health officials and media outlets in the US and Europe.
On Wednesday, Germany’s health minister expressed concern that it had not been properly tested.
“It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions… of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong,” Jens Spahn told local media.
“Based on everything we know… this has not been sufficiently tested,” he added. “It’s not about being first somehow – it’s about having a safe vaccine.”
Elsewhere in Europe, Isabelle Imbert, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Marseille, said promising a cure too early could be “very dangerous”.
“We do not know the methodology or the results of their clinical trials,” she told Le Parisien.
And in the US, the country’s top virus expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said he doubted Russia’s claims.
“I hope that the Russians have actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective,” he told National Geographic. “I seriously doubt that they’ve done that.”
Transparency concerns matter here
What do we know about the vaccine?
Russian scientists said early-stage trials of the vaccine had been completed and the results were a success.
The Russian vaccine uses adapted strains of the adenovirus, a virus that usually causes the common cold, to trigger an immune response.
But the vaccine’s approval by Russian regulators comes before the completion of a larger study involving thousands of people, known as a phase-three trial.
Experts consider these trials an essential part of the testing process.
Despite this, Mr Murashko said on Tuesday the vaccine had “proven to be highly effective and safe”, hailing it as a big step towards “humankind’s victory” over Covid-19.
Russia has likened the search for a vaccine to the space race contested by the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War.
Russia has previously been accused by the UK, US and Canada of seeking to steal research related to Covid-19.
More than 100 vaccines around the world are in early development, with some of those being tested on people in clinical trials.
Despite rapid progress, most experts think any vaccine would not become widely available until mid-2021.
The vaccine race is a competition